Chaotic and frustrating.
A hot mess, let's call it.
One reason last Saturday's March on Washington was hot because it was a transformative experience for many, especially the majority who weren't old enough to really remember the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s. The march itself had been transformed, objectively, by two developments this summer. What had been shaping up as an exercise in nostalgia was reshaped by the "not guilty" verdict handed to the killer of Trayvon Martin and the Supreme Court's trashing of the Voting Rights Act.
The speeches, those I heard, tended to focus on the latter more than the former, but Trayvon Martin signs (both homemade and printed) were the most common single theme in the crowd. My friend Rahim on the Docks pointed out the most brilliant single expression of this, a tee-shirt being hawked with MLK photoshopped into a hoodie—the Two Martins!
The March itself was the biggest expression of Black solidarity since, perhaps, the exultant all-night street celebrations that followed the announcement that Obama had been elected in 2008. The crowd was at least 70% Black, and heavily working class, both among folks who came on their own and also those who were part of the substantial union contingents and of the community groups, civil rights organizations, sororities and frats, and church congregations spread throughout the crowd.
The mess was twofold, political and organizational. We heard, those of us who could force our way toward the front, speaker after speaker, many cut off in mid-sentence. No two minute time limit was imposed on Attorney General Holder and House Minority leader Representative Pelosi, though. (A shameful shift from the 1963 March's ban on elected and appointed government officials speaking.) Nor were they heckled, although marchers from Newark booed their sleazy, ambitious mayor Cory "Hollywood" Booker.
Plenty of demonstrators wore shirts and buttons from Obama's campaigns, maybe a triumph of hope over experience, maybe a clear estimate that the alternative remains the greater evil. Interestingly, however, none of the speakers I heard, including a couple union bigs, particularly emphasized voting.
Instead, the constantly repeated theme was "This is not about commemoration, it's about